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The carriage ride didn’t take particularly long. We came up to a rather large and decadent manner. Based on Dire’s mansion, I had thought it normal for mansions to be fairly utilitarian and minimalistic in use. The only décor in Dire’s mansion had been what had already been there from the previous occupants before he took the place over. It turned out that this wasn’t a trend across all demons.
“Sal is exceptionally wealthy.” Dire responded weakly.
“Sal? This is Sal’s place?” I demanded.
“I’m afraid it is. I apologize. I forgot to mention this earlier.”
This was supposedly a discussion between factions to decide how they wanted to handle humans. There was Dire’s side, which believed in treating humans just like demons, and then there was Sal’s side, which believed in enslaving and exploiting them.
I had assumed this would all be carried out at a neutral location, but it was occurring in Sal’s mansion. Essentially, they were walking into enemy territory. Sal would be the one hosting, and how well he hosted would make an impression on all of the other demons.
Of everything I had heard tonight, this was probably the worst of it. I shot Dire a sharp look, but he only shrugged helplessly. That’s when I began to realize that I was likely on the losing side. Dire wasn’t an equal faction. He was the underdog! Just a look between the two mansions showed the disparity in their wealth.
“Don’t make such a face.” Dire sighed. “It really isn’t as bad as it seems. Sal indeed has his hand in every pocket. If it comes to wealth, he also has the power. However, there is something our side has that he doesn’t.”
“What is that?” I asked.
“Military strength.” The man named Bolmaz spoke up as he pushed his girth past me. “The soldiers in town follow Lieutenant Dire. It would be impossible for Sal to force a coup. He would have to have Dire’s cooperation. Given how much the military despite Sal, the only way he could have his way is with Dire’s approval.”
I started to calm down slightly with those words. It did make a bit of sense. Although they called it two factions fighting each other, it was more like Sal’s faction had to get along with this faction, and needed to woo them.
However, it was only slightly, because Dire had still put me into a difficult situation. By it’s very nature, Sal’s opening of the Sex Shoppe meant that we were direct competitors.
I could have remained politically neutral and out of his cross hairs, but now that I’ve shown up alongside Dire, I’ve also ended up throwing my cards with Dire. It was impossible to remain neutral. Anyone would assume that I am now against Sal.
Lieutenant Dire might be surrounded by a military that would protect him, but I only had a single drunken bouncer. I could either tie myself closer to Dire, forcing me deeper into this messy situation, or I could try to cut and run, only for Sal to wipe me out later.
I had thought Dire was a simple man, but I was completely fooled. He was rather smart and conniving. I suppose you didn’t become a military leader unless you had a good head on you for strategy. I had fallen right into his plot.
If I had any doubt, the slightly guilty expression on his face said it all. He continued forward with the other men up the long pathway leading to the front doors. I had no choice but to follow them, Alleya still on my arm.
She stroked my arm to soothe my tension. She likely guessed why I was upset, however, she was human, so for her, there was always only one option. From the moment she fled her home, her options had always been limited. She had grown used to living on the edge of a knife.
We were brought in by a hairy goat-demon greeter, who had the voice of an angel. It was pretty disconcerting. He had a movie trailer voice. It was smooth and velvety and very pleasing to the ears. However, his face was essentially a goat face, and he walked on hooves. He was a goat in a suit with the voice of a radio personality.
“Introducing Bartholomew Dire, rank, lieutenant of the 2nd battalion.”
After giving him our names, the goat called out in a loud voice across the hall our arrival. Each person was called out one at a time.
“Devon the Demon, of Devon’s Watering Hole…”
After the names and titles of everyone else, my name sounded exceptionally plain. Thus, it was rather strange that I caught the interest of numerous demons who glanced in my direction. At least the goat didn’t insist on announcing Alleya, although he seemed agitated when I told him she didn’t need to be announced. He seemed to like yelling out names, I guessed. I decided to follow Dire because I didn’t want to deal with others, but he had slipped ahead of me and I barely made it a few steps when three demons I didn’t know stepped in front of me.
“You’re the one I’ve been hearing about, who hires humans?”
“I don’t hire them,” I responded trying to step around them. “I take care of them, and they work to compensate me.”
They moved naturally in a way that blocked my movements.
One of the others spoke up. “I have to say, I’m not very familiar with such a service. Of course, I’d never be caught dead walking into such a small and dreary shop. Is there any chance you would lend your girls out to my mansion?”
I frowned as I heard his words. There was a somewhat mocking way in which he spoke. First, he claimed my place was beneath him, and then he also wanted me to send my girls to him. I didn’t need Alleya’s hand tightening on my arm for me to understand the situation.
I had thought of sending girls out. Escorts were a common thing in my old world, and I knew some demons would never find the time to come to my shop. However, I realized that these girls wouldn’t be protected. Of course, I could send them with a bouncer, or even hire a few other bouncers, but now that I knew about Sal, it was impossible.
This guy was likely one of Sal’s people, and if I sent a girl to his place, I would likely never see my girl again. She’d either be eliminated or be taken by Sal and become one of his girls after a certain level of brainwashing.
I had come here empathetically, but as I saw how conniving these demons were, I was getting a feeling that things were just starting for my shop. It was going to become increasingly more dangerous from here on out.
“I apologize, but someone who wants to use my girls must also be in my shop. It’s the only way I can keep things regulated and controlled.”
He looked disappointed, but the third man spoke immediately after I gave my answer.
“Is she one of them? Can we try her out?”
“She’s my guest, and she’s not working tonight.” I declared without hesitation.
I could feel her hiding slightly behind me as the three demons looked at her like she was a piece of meat. Before anyone could say anything else, there was a dinging of a glass, and the crowd noises diminished. The three demons turned, and I used the opportunity to get some distance from them. I was scanning the crowds for Dire when a grating voice that couldn’t be ignored drew me to the front of the room. Sitting behind a long table and clearly, the centerpiece of this large ballroom was an enormously fat thing. It had rolls and rolls of fat, and I couldn’t tell if it was standing, sitting, or just melting on the floor.
“It’s good to see that all the guests have arrived. Good to see, indeed.” He spoke in a low, croaking voice. “I’m your host, Sal. We’ll be enjoying our meal soon, but first, I wanted to treat everyone here. You’ve probably all recently been hearing about the so-called services being offered at this derelict building called a watering hole or something. Rather than see my friends here duped into wasting their precious money on filthy subpar services, I’ve graciously opened my own shop. Please allow me to help you all relax and educate you on the wonders of these humans. Before we eat, please indulge in my ladies, free of charge!”
As he made such cutting announcements, I didn’t hide the ugly expression on my face. However, when a line of twenty half-naked women walked out, that expression couldn’t help but turn to one of shock. If there was any question that Sal was aiming to squash the competition, it was long gone. Sal was on the full offensive, and I was in his sight!